In Brief

Psychologists who fail to take care of themselves are less likely to be competent providers, said Erica H. Wise, PhD, a presenter at an "Ethics and Self-Care" continuing-education workshop at APA's 2006 Annual Convention. In addition, when psychologists' mental or physical health affects their work, it can create an ethical problem because their ability to help clients is compromised, said Wise, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Impairment doesn't always take an obvious form like substance abuse, said Wise during the APA Continuing Education Committee-sponsored session. Snowballing personal stressors-such as health problems, marital problems or even day-to-day stressors-can foster mental distress that can impair a psychologist's effectiveness or even cause improper behavior, such as inability to set appropriate boundaries, breach of confidentiality, fraud or negligence.

However, psychologists can miss the warning signs of professional stress-including loss of pleasure in work, depression, concentration problems, anxiety, increased errors and loss of objectivity. Wise advised avoiding such problems through preventive self-care and coping practices including:

  • Getting enough sleep.

  • Balancing work and leisure time.

  • Keeping realistic expectations about work.•

  • Maintaining professional contacts.

  • Seeking consultation for personal or professional difficulties before there's a problem.

To do just that, workshop participants completed self-care assessments, then discussed in small groups the professional issues and ethical dilemmas their assessments raised.

Wise and her co-presenter, Steven D. Mullinix, PhD, an independent practitioner and consultant in Chapel Hill, N.C., advised workshop participants to heed spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical and vocational elements of their personal wellness. Finally, they pointed out the factors that increase psychologists' vulnerability to occupational stress, such as professional isolation, inadequate professional support, overwork and unrealistic self-expectations.

--L. Meyers